In the December 2008 article "Fixing Gridlock," writer John Lorinc noted that if municipal planners want to find other innovative ways of keeping people out of their cars, they must begin to pay more attention to bikes, which are seen more and more as a crucial ingredient in any congestion-busting strategy.
Other countries get it. In the Netherlands, commuter-rail stations are fitted out with ample and secure bike parking lots. Years ago, the mayor of Bogotá instituted car-free Sundays in his city to encourage activities such as cycling, walking and skating. The city closed roads to car traffic and built hundreds of kilometres of bike lanes. On a recent business trip to Sweden, Roschlau noticed that every hotel where he stayed had bikes available for guests at no charge. At one hotel in a town north of Stockholm, when Roschlau asked for a helmet, the desk clerk replied, “We don’t use helmets.” She couldn’t explain why, but Roschlau figured it out soon enough: The city’s bike paths were segregated from traffic, and thus less dangerous than the bike lanes found in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa.
A Viable Option
Roschlau doesn’t pretend that cycling will take hold in Canada’s suburban hinterland any time soon. But his observation about cycling as a viable and widely used transportation alternative in comparatively dense Scandinavian cities like Helsinki and Oslo indicates that Canadian municipalities could do much more to make their core areas more amenable to bikers—and therefore less congested for those who drive.
Most big cities have plans to expand their bike-lane networks, and some have had more success in the follow-through than others. In Canada, Montreal is a city with progressive cycling policies; in June 2008, the city approved spending $50 million to double its 400-kilometre network of bike paths by 2015.
That’s not all. In September, Montreal began testing a bike-sharing service, called BIXI, modelled on Vélib, Paris’s extraordinarily popular bike-rental network. Run by a partnership between the city and an outdoor-ad agency, Vélib is a network of curbside “stations” where people can rent a bike for as little as one euro for a 30-minute period, using a credit card. After the initial 30 minutes, it costs increasingly more per half hour, to discourage long rentals.
The locks are electronic and the bikes may be returned to any station. The service began with 10,600 bikes, but demand was such that Vélib doubled its fleet. The city of Paris, for its part, has made cycling much easier with the construction of an extensive on-street bike network that is helping to cut downtown congestion.